I have finally found a book from Orson Scott Card that I could not finish. He has written some amazing stories so far. I loved each and every one of them – either the fairytales or the space exploration. Even the biblical stories and I don’t do religion. Here are some of my favourites to date:
- Hart’s Hope * Orson Scott Card book review
- Series: Tales of Alvin Maker * Orson Scott Card
- Enchantment * Orson Scott Card Book Review
- A planet called Treason * Orson Scott Card
- Sarah (Women of Genesis, Book 1) By Orson Scott Card
But this book did not sing well in my ears.
The novel originated from a novelette, “Mikal’s Songbird”, which appeared in Analog Science Fiction in May 1978. The story concerns a young boy whose perfect singing voice had the power to amplify people’s emotions. It is reprinted in Card’s short story collection Maps in a Mirror. In addition to serving as the seed from which the novel was written, the original story is incorporated (with minor alterations) as the second section of the novel.
The book starts off with the galactic conquest of a planet who has a school of songbirds – children who can sing well enough to match the birds in the sky. The conqueror, Mikal, requests a songbird be given to him as a gift for his ascension. He is initially denied this request as he is seen as bloodthirsty and ruthless but soon they change their minds.
“Songbirds are given only to those who can truly appreciate them. We invite people to accept them. We do not take applications.”
The school headmistress offers him Ansset, a young boy who has the ability to sing and mirror the emotions of the people present. He can sing, wordlessly, about pain, about glory, about death – even about emotions he had not experienced himself but can see inside people’s hearts.
The boy, due to the drugs given to him in the Songhouse, will have the voice of an innocent for a long while – as puberty is delayed and girls turn sterile from the use.
Ansset is only 9 but he is very beautiful – “the kind of face that melted men’s hearts as readily as women’s. More readily.”
Soon, he has the emperor’s attention and after a kidnapping plot, the emperor finds out that he does not want to lose the boy and looks at the small songbird with something akin to fatherly love.
“They all wondered, of course, if a boy of such great beauty had found his way into Mikal’s bed. Kya-Kya knew better. The Songhouse would never tolerate it. They would never send a Songbird to someone who would try such a thing.
But that doesn’t mean that Ansset is free from unwanted attention. A guard searches him a bit too thoroughly when he is first set to meet Mikal but is soon punished for his roaming hands.
Kya-Kya (Kyaren) is a girl a few years older than Ansset who leaves the Songhouse and works her way up to a senior position on Earth. Eventually she ends up working for Ansset when he is fifteen (though he still has the body of a 10-year-old.) Kyaran has a boyfriend called Josif who is, in his own words, sixty two percent homosexual and the rest heterosexual.
This is when the book starts to lose my interest. If the plot was “Young boy taken from an orphanage sings his way into becoming the ruler of an empire”, I would have been sold. The plot turned instead to explore the love between a man and a child, and no mind here that Ansset is 15 if he looks like a 10-year-old is still considered paedophilia.
Ansset eventually offers himself to the young man, saying, “I know what you want, and I’m willing”. Josif lovingly brings the boy to his first climax but unfortunately, this brings enormous pain for Ansset .
The Songhouse drugs have almost killed him and he is forever impotent.
At this point I put the book down, slightly disgusted. I’m OK with gay characters. Hell, I’ve read Anne Rice’s gay vampire series “The Chronicles of the Vampires” and in there, in more than one place, Lestat is the object of sexual attention from another male. *cough* Anne Rice – Memnoch the Devil – The Vampire Chronicles *cough*
But this was trying to depict that a longing of love and understanding between a married man (with a child of his own!) is OK to pursue a vulnerable young teenager who had never experienced sex other than in a groping and violent manner perpetrated by a guard. It felt a lot like grooming rather than “genuine love and friendship on both parts. “
“all living things are manipulated as long as there is a will, it is bent and twisted constantly. Only the dead are allowed the luxury of freedom, and then only because they want nothing, and therefore can’t be thwarted.”
So, yeah, this book is frustrating. Anyone remotely gay gets punished for giving in and being gay. They either end up with no penis and kill themselves or they end up getting to be celibate forever while folks who follow the rules get married, have kids and live happily even if it makes no sense to marry someone you barely know and have kids with them.
I found a remark of Card’s over a decade after the book’s publication defending the novel where he claimed:
What the novel offers is a treatment of characters who share, between them, a forbidden act that took place because of hunger on one side, compassion on the other, and genuine love and friendship on both parts. I was not trying to show that homosexuality was “beautiful” or “natural” — in fact, sex of any kind is likely to be “beautiful” only to the participants, and it is hard to make a case for the naturalness of such an obviously counter-evolutionary trend as same-sex mating. Those issues were irrelevant. The friendship between [them] was the beautiful and natural thing, even if it eventually led them on a mutually self-destructive path.
The relationship isn’t the central focus of the book. I wouldn’t belabour the issue so much in this review, except that Card’s views on homosexuality (expressed in ways much more extreme than in the quote above) so shocked me because it seemed so contrary to the spirit of what I had read by him and knowing those views now taint how I read his books. So rereading this–trying to decide whether or not to keep this book on my shelf or not has only deepened my bewilderment. How can he believe that, but write this?
This is a burn pile book